Duo nervously chopped fruit the next morning for breakfast. Sleep had failed to alleviate the embarrassment he felt about what he'd said to Heero. It wasn't because it wasn't true, he would truly rather be with Heero than anyone else. He'd rather be here than anywhere else he'd ever lived before, save his parents' house, but he barely remembered that. And it wasn't that he didn't want Heero to know, but it just came out sounding so dumb. After his impromptu speech and hug in the rose garden, it should be obvious. Heero should very well know how he felt, there had been no reason to go embarrassing himself like that.
He could see Heero taking a seat at the small table in the garden. He added the fruit to the tray and brought it out.
"'Morning!" he said cheerfully. Somehow, seeing Heero made him less nervous. "How does it feel to be a General?" he joked, expecting Heero to growl at him or say it was stupid question.
"Exactly the same," Heero answered, "except now I've got one Emperor pissed at me."
Duo chuckled. Heero seemed to be taking it lightly. "Sorry about that," he grinned.
"Not your fault at all," Heero answered. "Duo, have you eaten?"
"Not yet," Duo admitted. Honestly, he'd been too nervous to eat.
"Please join me," Heero said, motioning to the other chair.
"Um, ok," Duo said hesitantly and sat down.
"Let's make it a morning habit, ok?" Heero asked.
"Sure!" said enthusiastically.
Duo sat at the table with him now, but still put forward most of the conversation. Heero had to admit he'd begun to actually look forward to this. He could see Duo better now, rather than having him standing somewhere, and Duo's bare, tan chest across the table was a nice sight. He listened to Duo talk about his unescorted tour of the Emperor's palace as he idly sipped his juice. When he found himself wondering what Duo's hair looked like down, he managed to quiet those thoughts before his brain tried to picture it. Last night, he had realized there was no way he could not admire Duo's looks, so he decided to allow it in small doses and just keep it under control.
The week went on much the same. The two had breakfast, the most popular performer in all of Rome happily ran his errands around town, they sparred, and Duo took care of the animals. Heero's presence was required more often at the military headquarters, but he was not nearly full time and wouldn't be again until a new operation was undertaken. He mostly went in to review troops and oversee training regimen.
Compared, his training with Duo was going exceptionally well. Duo was much stronger and much faster than he had been at first, he definitely had to work to block Duo and to attack him. He said the dance training had actually helped his sword technique. Heero was not surprised, Duo's dances required great coordination and muscular stamina. He also said the two reciprocated, that his increased strength made him a better dancer. Heero was pleased. He was especially pleased with the promise he saw in the other young man. When Duo was at his level, he would most likely be even faster then Heero. But he would not be stronger, so they would be an excellent match.
One day the next week, Duo did not appear at breakfast. Baltus brought Heero his breakfast and said he had seen Duo in the barn. Heero went there and found Duo in the empty stall with Diana. He had made a little straw nest for her and covered it with one of the thick wool horse blankets. Duo was murmuring to her and stroking her ear.
"She's been in labor since before sunrise," Duo told him without looking up. "Look, there's two already! I think she's pretty tired though."
Heero looked, and sure enough, two little squirming pink things lay at Diana's side.
"What can we do?" Heero asked softly, mimicking Duo's tone as not to disturb Diana.
"Not much," Duo shrugged at him with a smile, "not sure how many more she's got."
"Well, I think this should be your priority for the day," Heero decided. "There's not really much I need in town today, and Baltus can take care of the horses. How would you feel about staying with her?"
"Really? I think that's a great idea!" Duo exclaimed.
So, Duo stayed with Diana all day, and Heero took care of his other business himself. By lunch, there were 5 healthy puppies.
"She's completely exhausted," Duo reported when Heero entered the barn.
"Now you'll have all of them following you around town," Heero remarked, leaning over the divider.
"Not for a little while," Duo laughed. "Come in here and see them!" he beckoned. Heero hesitantly pushed the door open and knelt next to Duo, and one squirming fuzzball was set in his lap. Diana looked on trustingly.
"Put your hands around it, they need to be warm," Duo said as Heero stared at the puppy. Heero did as Duo showed him, cupping the small animal gently and giving it his warmth.
"So, are you going to sell them?" Duo asked.
"When they've been weaned," Heero answered. "She was bred to a well-known stud dog, so I'm sure I'll have no trouble finding takers. You'll help me with the early training, right?"
"Of course!" Duo responded eagerly.
"You have to be strict," Heero reminded him.
"I can do that," Duo insisted.
"All right," Heero nodded.
Duo left Diana to fix her a hearty meal and get a bowl of fresh water. He kept watch on her the rest of the day, but was back to normal schedule by the following day. Heero told him at lunch that he had done such a wonderful job caring for Heero's investment that he was putting some money in Duo's account.
Heero had another surprising announcement for Duo the following week.
"Duo, please finish all your tasks and errands by lunch, I'm bringing you out with me this afternoon," Heero said at breakfast.
"Sure thing," Duo replied. "Where are we going?"
"We're going to have your training session at the palestra today," Heero told him.
"Out in front of everybody?" Duo asked. He had not been in the private club since his first tour.
"That's right," Heero confirmed, "You're ready, don't worry. After helping Baltus clean up lunch, you can pack our things."
"Ok," Duo said, still wondering what this was all about. He did as Heero asked while Heero spent the morning in his office going over a stack of military reports.
At lunch, Heero invited Duo to sit and eat, so now they'd have lunch together, too. After clean up, he readied their things in the armory.
It was a gorgeous afternoon and the place was full of men exercising, swimming, wrestling, fighting, and bathing. Trowa ran the best and most exclusive palestra in town. There were public ones, but his was head and shoulders above the rest. Heero belonged for free, and made good use of it. He seemed to have trouble finding sparring partners if his friends were not there, so they usually all went together. Trowa would not fight him, though, he refused out of respect for their history. Heero thought this was odd, they were friends now, not owner and slave, but he did not question Trowa's honor. Zechs and Wu Fei were both already there and greeted both newcomers warmly.
"You said you had been training him, do we get a little show?" Zechs asked hopefully.
"It's not a show, Zechs," Heero said flatly, removing his outer layer of clothing, "we are just here to practice like everyone else."
Zechs nodded, but the way he was smiling, Heero knew his friend would still consider it a show.
"Now, Duo, you are supposed to go naked," he heard Zechs saying. Heero rolled his eyes. He did wish Zechs would stop tormenting Duo.
"Heero...?" Duo turned to him for help.
"No, Duo," he answered simply. He himself never went naked and there was no way in hell he would let Duo.
Duo was much relieved. With all the attention he was already getting for his performances, he did not need to parade around naked. Nor did he want to. There was already so much desire centered around him, the last thing he wanted was all these people seeing him in the buff. He figured that's why Heero didn't go nude. Sometimes he wondered what was up with the Romans. Wu Fei and Zechs were both naked as the day they were born, but by now, Duo had figured out these two had seen each other like this under much different circumstances, so it didn't matter.
When they were both ready, Duo followed Heero outside to the green, where they found an open space and began to fight. Neither noticed other patrons stop their own activates to watch.
Heero was practically grinning with glee as he fought back a particularly ruthless attack by Duo. Duo didn't know just how good he'd gotten. Heero saw it though, and he knew probably everyone in the place saw it. Duo had speed, accuracy, and strength, and he was still improving.
When Heero finally called a stop, he was breathing hard and absolutely exhilarated. "Excellent," he panted, and Duo beamed.
"Incredible! I must have a chance!" Wu Fei exclaimed.
Wu Fei had few equals at hand-to-hand combat, but Heero was aware that his swordsmanship skills had slackened since he left the military. He had done fine in the hunt, but this was a different story.
"You must promise not to be angry if he beats you," Heero said.
"It will look really bad," Zechs reminded him teasingly.
"I will hold no grudge," he said to Duo, "but you will not win."
"Duo, do you need a rest?" Heero asked before he allowed anything to start.
"I could run and get some water if you wanted," Duo replied.
Heero nodded, handing him a flask. Duo was really asking to go get a drink but making it sound like he was offering for his master's sake. Heero appreciated the deferential act while they were in public.
Quatre joined them while Duo was gone. He had just come from the javelin range. Despite spending most of his days in the senate, and being a little short for his age, Quatre was a natural athlete. He was graceful and could not be bested when it came to strategy. He waved as Duo appeared.
"How are you today, Duo?" he asked his friend. "Here to spar with Heero?"
"That's right," he answered, handing Heero the flask first, "but Wu Fei gets me next."
Heero took a perfunctory drink, and then handed it back to Duo so he could have the rest. When Duo felt rested, his match with Wu Fei began. Duo learned his style very quickly. Very textbook. His moves were to the letter, but fighting by the book was not very versatile and quite easy to predict. He was very fast, both mentally and physically, but Duo still had an edge. It began to look like Duo might win.
"Enough!" Heero called, and both men stopped.
"Very good," Wu Fei grunted in approval. He was secretly relieved Heero had ended the match, Duo might have beaten him after all.
"You are very skilled," Duo said to Wu Fei, "I was very impressed at the last games."
"Do I get a chance?" Zechs asked eagerly.
"Maybe next time," Heero answered, "I want him to have some energy left. We are going to go throw javelins and then swim."
"Need him to have some energy left... hmmm??" Zechs whispered in Heero's ear when he snuck up on him on their way to the target range.
Heero gave him a hard but playful shove, nearly to the ground. Zechs just laughed and Heero attacked him outright, taking him to the ground where they wrestled around for several minutes, laughing and growling at each other. The other four just watched amusedly and selected javelins.
After javelin throwing and a swim, Heero and Duo went home to bathe. Duo knew this was an oddity, since everyone else used the elegant baths at the palestra. He also knew it was unusual for homes to have a full bath like Heero's did.
"You don't bathe with everyone else?" Duo asked on the way home.
"No, I am a little more private than is currently in style," he answered.
Duo looked at him curiously. Heero's body was, in a word, perfection. He was of average height and ideally proportioned. His skin was golden and taught over perfectly defined muscles. Heero's facial features were more beautiful than handsome - especially when he smiled - but the only remotely feminine thing about him was perhaps his long neck. Duo especially favored his startling blue eyes. Heero had nothing to be ashamed of in the physical department, and it wasn't like the Romans even cared if they did. Everybody just got naked together. He reminded himself that Heero had stripped down in front of the whole city, during the hunt, but he had left his loincloth on.
Duo began to wonder if he did have something to hide. Perhaps a hideous scar, or maybe he'd lost a testicle in battle. Or maybe he was very small. Duo nearly laughed out loud at that idea. No, he told himself, trying to quell his giggles, that couldn't be it. It would be a crime against nature and humanity for someone so otherwise perfect to be small.
When they reached home, Duo headed for the armory to put their gear away and Heero went to the bath first. Now alone, Duo found his curiosity insatiable. He had to know what Heero was hiding! He ditched the bag and scurried through the servant corridors to the boiler room. He was able to see into the bath through one of the small, square cut windows between the rooms.
Heero entered the bath and turned away from Duo's wall to arrange his towels. He dropped his loincloth then, and Duo got a clear view of his butt. No flaws there either, just two more well-defined muscles. He bore no scars or embarrassing marks. Duo held his breath as Heero turned around to the tub. Heero was normal. Well, he was maybe a little bigger than normal, but there were no deformities, and he appeared to have both testicles. Duo paused embarrassedly to wonder why he was suddenly fixated on the state of Heero's testicles.
Then Duo did spot one odd thing. Heero had a tattoo, which was uncommon for people of his class. It was very small, only in black ink, and situated discreetly on his hip. Duo squinted, but could not make out what it was from his distance. It disappeared beneath the water a moment later. Duo wondered if a tattoo was enough to keep Heero from joining his friends in the public baths. Maybe he really was just kind of shy and private.
Heero got accustomed to the temperature and dunked his head under. He surfaced a moment later and shook his hair out. Mona brought him a glass of wine, and he thanked her before dismissing her. Heero sank back and looked very relaxed, even contemplative. Duo smiled, the expression was very becoming, especially with his wet hair hanging in his eyes. Heero finished off the wine, scrubbed his skin and hair clean, and before Duo knew it, he stood to get out. Duo realized he had watched the whole time! Surprised at himself, and remembering he had to put the weapons away still, he hurried back to the armory.
Duo cleaned the weapons and his mind wandered back to Heero's bath. He really seemed to enjoy it, he rarely relaxed like that, but he hadn't touched himself or masturbated or anything - which Duo was glad about because he had to use the bath next. Nope he just drank, washed himself, and looked thoughtful. Duo wondered if Heero ever did things like that. Hilde had been right, Heero was never seen at the brothels, never snuck away at parties unless it was to hide from someone, never went out at odd hours or had late night visitors. Zechs had been right too, Heero did not seem romantically interested in anyone at all. He was almost asexual. Perhaps he masturbated in bed at night. His room was very private, all the servants slept on the ground floor. Everybody did it, right?
"Duo, it's all yours as soon as you're done," Heero interrupted his thoughts from the doorway. Duo's head snapped up to looked at him.
"Oh! Uh, ok! Thanks!" Duo stuttered, turning bright red. He'd just been spying on Heero in the bath and pondering his sexuality, and suddenly there was the man in his doorway.
Heero cocked an eyebrow at his guilty expression, and Duo laughed nervously. Heero gave him another funny look and then left.
"I am such an idiot," Duo told himself as he finished up. Idiot or not, it didn't mean he was going to stop. Just because he'd been caught thinking about Heero's nonexistent sex life didn't mean Heero knew that. It was a puzzle to him. Everybody had sexual feelings, right? The city itself seemed to hum with lust. Duo's own libido was a challenge to keep in check. Duo masturbated just about every night. He was still getting used to sleeping alone instead of with six women, after all.
Everything he implied in his handmaiden tales was true. It was true he'd slept with six girls. Each night, he'd sneak off with one of them for a little bit, and then rejoin everyone else in the shared quarters. Well, he'd been seventeen at the time, so he might take another one out later if requested. It was ok as long as none of them ended up pregnant, so they were just careful. All six of them would sleep cuddled up to him, which he liked, and sometimes he'd wake up to one of them kissing, stroking, or sucking him, which he really liked.
It was still weird to be alone. He'd spent all his time for the last 2 years with those six girls. At first, none of them knew what to make of him. They all new Madame Ocious was crazy, but a boy? He was clumsy and awkward, a total failure at anything requiring any kind of grace or elegance. Even after the first month, he was not at all a convincing female, and the madame had him punished frequently for his inability to conform. He was absolutely miserable.
Saraswati had been the first to take him under her wing. She was Eastern, with dark hair and brown skin. She frequently painted an elegant red dot in the middle of her brow and not only did she have several ear piercings, she had her nose and navel pierced as well. All this was very exotic to Duo, and he found it very sexy. She was the trainer of all the girls and she had been trying to train Duo. She felt sorry for him that he always got beaten or yelled at, so she decided to give him a little extra help.
She told Duo that what he lacked was not a female form, but sensuality. She started sexual training to teach him how to be sensual, something that did not really come naturally to an orphaned farmboy turned revenge-crazed mercenary. In bed, she taught him how to move, how to use his body, make it supple and rhythmic, how to go slow and read various cues. Most importantly, she taught him how women are, he was to be observing her as much as learning for himself. Out of bed was much the same, he learned how to control his body, keep rhythm, use his eyes, and how little things such as the flick of a wrist or angle of a bent neck could make a man's breath quicken.
With her help, Duo became a huge success. He'd been a virgin when he'd first arrived, sex had never really crossed his mind during his days as a mercenary and a bandit. At seventeen and suddenly surrounded by six beautiful women, his sexuality positively bloomed. Sara decided he'd become good enough to help teach the other girls. At her urging, the other girls started to sleep with him as well. All of them were virgins too. There were strict rules about sex with the madame's handmaidens, but Duo somehow got away with it because, well, he sort of was one. Duo would never forget how each one blushed when he touched them for the first time. He began to understand that taking care of them was a privilege and a responsibility. Saraswati's lessons helped him make sure they never went away unsatisfied.
It had been amazing, there had been no jealousy between them. Duo had his stamina and Sara's teaching to thank for that. He was able to learn each one perfectly, the exact and particular things she liked. They'd simply adored him. He was like their doll, they dressed him, did his make-up, combed and styled his hair. Every single one had privately confessed to finding him very sexy in women's clothes because, they said, they still knew he was male underneath.
They'd all slept together on a pile of cushions on the floor, the girls in various states of undress surrounding naked Duo. They said they liked him naked, so they could see just how male he really was. A few of them had taken special interest in his body, so he helped them learn about men. Many of them became quite talented and he imagined these skills were probably serving them well now.
He missed them terribly, they'd spent every waking and sleeping hour together. They had truly accepted him, teaching him crafts like spinning and weaving. He sat around with them when they were not performing and listened in as they gossiped or told stories while they wove. They bathed together in the huge baths. No one in the palace would dare question the Madame, nor could they reproach her handmaidens, so Duo enjoyed a great deal of freedom. Over the two years, they'd simply fallen in love with him, and he with each of them. All that was painful to leave. He still hated sleeping alone. Before the puppies, Diana had taken to sleeping on his floor, but the sound of one dog sleeping did not make up for six sexy women holding him at night.
Duo sighed and tried to stop thinking about it. He had not allowed himself to think about them this long before, he tried to keep his mind off it, but now he was filled with longing to see them. He vowed to look each one up.
-Heh. I sorta like the image of all the boys standing around naked with weapons... But you know, really, they probably wore armor to spar, I don't really know. There's all those black figure vases of naked warriors, but it would be dumb not to if you ask me.
-Boiler room? I dunno what they called it, but houses with baths did have rooms where they heated the water.
-Duo's peeping window is modeled after baths I saw in a house in Pompeii. They were kind of small, like 8x8 in.
-Romans did tattoo, but it was more for lower classes, kind of considered brutish.
-For the record, Romans really DID drink wine all the time. It was all they had besides water. They typically watered it down, though.
-Saraswati - Indian Goddess of learning or knowledge or something.